A film review by Craig J. Koban January 31, 2023


2023, Unrated, 75 mins.

Dominic Mariche as Gary  /  Phoebe Rex as Samantha  /  Calem MacDonald as Billy  /  Asher Grayson as Jack  /  Ben Tector as Miles  /  Emma Vickers as Trish  /  Isaiah Fortune as Dallas  /  Jonathan Torrens as Dad

Directed by Jason Eisener  /  Written by Eisener and John Davies



I really, really, really wanted to like this film.  

Gosh, did I ever.

I mean, it's called KIDS VS. ALIENS!  That alone drums up so many juicy possibilities, doesn't it?  And it's from writer/director Jason Eisener, whom previously made his last feature film debut way, way back in the spectacularly trashy grindhouse effort HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, which starred the late Rutger Hauer as the titular character that was (yes) a hobo that (also yes) wielded a shotgun.   

You may also recall Eisener's rags to riches story about how he started up in the business, which involved him saving up a little over hundred bucks and gathered some willing friends to make a faux trailer for HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (that later became a YouTube sensation in Canada).  GRINDHOUSE directors Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez loved it so much that they placed it in-between their double feature when it premiered in the Great White North.  That marvelous trailer screamed for big screen treatment, and the rest is history. 

But, yes, back to KIDS VS. ALIENS, which is Eisener's first film in a decade-plus and - much like his last effort - is very wink-wink with its audience in its self-awareness and never once hides behind its lurid preposterousness.  Not only is Eisener's non-stop infectious spirit with this material on full display, but it also fully embraces the same kind of gore-drenched, B-grade eccentricities that populated retrograde pictures of yesteryear that probably would only get released in discount midnight screenings.  You can also truly feel the scattershot number of influences in KIDS VS. ALIENS, which frequently plays like a weird homogenization of  THE MONSTER SQUAD, THE GOONIES, and WAR OF THE WORLDS for good measure.  And when Eisener's film does get to the promises of its title it becomes weirdly enthralling.  One of the big problems, however, with KIDS VS ALIENS is that - for such a ridiculously short film (under 70 minutes before the end credits roll by) - the narrative takes seemingly forever to get to this intergalactic tug of war.  We don't get to see these kids fight aliens until well after the half-way point of the film, and before that we're dealt with a lot of disinteresting character development and soap opera-y melodrama that makes the whole enterprise feel like too much of slog for its own good. 



I will say, though, that Eisener at least opens his film with a solid bang.  In the introductory scene we're taken to a fishing boat out into the middle of nowhere at night when the aliens first reveal themselves to this motley crew of scared out of their paints seaman (the sound design work here that's used throughout to introduce the E.T.s off camera has more than a fleeting similarity to what Spielberg utilized in his WAR OF THE WORLDS).  With the galaxy traveling beasts shown here in all of their human hating power, the film then segues to character introductions of the kids in question...and we stick with them and their coming-of-age woes for a long...long...long time.  It's Halloween (perfect timing!) and Gary (Dominic Mariche), Miles (Ben Tector), and Jack (Asher Grayson) are enjoying a weekend without their parents (again...perfect timing!) by filming (what else?) an epic monster movie utilizing every kitchen sink prop and utility at their disposal.  Joining these boys is the older Samatha (a quite good Phoebe Rex), who's grappling with the types of emotional and physical issues that befall all young girls moving through puberty and into maturity.  She drowns her anxieties in her pro-wrestling fandom, and she's a big appreciator of the sci-fi medieval looking wrestler affectionately named "Valora."  Her geeky proclivities make her a tight fit with these boys that are dead serious about their filmmaking endeavors, but a wrench is thrown into the machine, so to speak, with the appearance of Billy (Calem MacDonald), who's a teenage bad boy.  We know he's a teenage bad boy here because (a) he's moody and (b) he - gasp! - smokes!!! 

This alpha male douchebag is so douchey that he sets his crosshairs on the emotionally frail Samantha and tries to woe her to his dark side of the douchey Force.  He initially succeeds, mostly because Samantha is smitten with his pretty boy facade, and her very abrupt abandoning of her three pals while they're in mid-shoot annoys them to no end.  Everything comes to a head during a Halloween party that Samantha allows Billy to thrown with his hooligan friends, and just as soon as she discovers that her new boyfriend is a toxic a-hole that cares nothing for her those damn dirty aliens arrive outside of the home and stop at nothing to collect up as many of these kids as possible to take back to their nearby ship and do the unthinkable with them.  Samantha is, of course, one of the very few that escapes the mass abduction, and because she's conveniently a wrestling fan - and a surprisingly capable wrestler herself in the making -  she decides to take on these monsters from the cosmos. 

There are two things that are readily apparent throughout KIDS VS. ALIENS: Firstly, you can really sense that this youthful cast is having a blast and are uniformly invested in this frankly out-there movie.  Secondly, I really loved the purposely bargain bin/low rent look of the aliens themselves, and that's not to say that they look so phony that the whole illusion is forfeited.  Far from it.  There's a wonderfully practical men-in-suits vibe about these creatures, which obviously helps sell the whole grindhouse horror tone that Eisener is aiming for here.  Sure, these aliens look like the product of Halloween store costumes being spiffed up a bit to help sell their look, but it works pretty well in the film.  And it should be noted that these villains from another galaxy are in the classic (and laughable) mould of so many movie extraterrestrials in the sense that they appear to be unthinkably savage without rationale thought or intelligence, driven purely on bloodlust mode...but they're smart enough to figure out interstellar travel.  And KIDS VS. ALIENS more than deserves its adult rating (actually, this film technically released unrated) in showing what these big headed fiends do to some of these partying kids that they've smuggled back to their ship.  Let's just say that some of these less-than-desirable teens probably deserved it, but their fate was nevertheless disgusting to watch.  This film delivers on (what Roger Ebert would describe) its splattergorium intentions.   

And, yeah, when KIDS VS. ALIENS finally gets to Samantha and company taking on these beings that seem invested in melting down humans into goo (or mutate one of them into a Hulk-like werewolf monster made of teeth and claws) it's an undeniably good time, especially in watching Samantha tap into full-on Sarah Connor mode to take out the alien trash.  The whole infectious and garish spirit of the film is captured well in the final sections, but it all careens towards a hugely dissatisfying non-ending and cliffhanger that hints at new sequels to come that we mostly likely will never get (it's quite manipulative to get our juices flowing for this material and then cheat us like this).  KIDS VS ALIENS is - as alluded to - highly guilty of wasting too much of its plot with the comings and goings of these kids, their shifting allegiances, and their adolescent angst.  All I could think about was how much better served this film would have been if it just squandered the whole troubled love story between Samantha and Billy and instead just got to what we're paying to see much quicker.  When the film awkwardly builds towards that Halloween party and paint-by-numbers teen experience story machinations the film is two thirds over when the aliens finally make their presence felt.  That's a big miscalculation. 

Further hurting the film is that these kids aren't all that well developed either, outside of black and white delineations (Billy = bad, kids = good, Samantha = good, goes bad, and then becomes good again).  On top of that, the young kids in particular are aggressively potty mouthed...they swear and drop F-bombs so bloody much in this film that they would make the mobsters in GOODFELLAS blush with envy.  I'm no prude at all, nor do I have any issues with a filmmaker pushing the limits of a rating (or no rating), but it becomes rather ear piercingly distracting to listen to some of these really young kids speak so vulgarly and so often;  it's fatiguing and numbing.  I think that, ultimately, KIDS VS ALIENS uses this - and much more - as filler in its struggles to generate a padded out feature film length out of this material, and more often than not Eisener's second directorial effort mightily struggles to even get to its 75 minute mark.  This is one of those cases when perhaps a short film would have worked out better than what we got here. 

Here's another last thing: There was already another Canadian made and funded version of this film (and much better) with 2021's PSYCHO GOREMAN, which was also an outrageous mixture of horror-fantasy and coming of age comedy in its story of kids befriending and being able to control an ancient alien monster.  That film was coarse, ultra violent, and cheesy to the max, but infinitely more enjoyable as a throwback to the types of micro-budget exploitation pictures that dominated the VHS shelves at local mom and pop video stores four decades ago.  KIDS VS ALIENS should have been an unmitigated hoot as a neon-hued tribute to 80s kid centric adventure films and cheaply disposable creature features, but it simply takes too long to get to its good stuff to warrant a recommendation.  This film has no business being so grating and endurance testing when it should have been totally rad and fun.  

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